Customer Loyalty Comes Through Appreciated Employees:
Bank On It!

Less than a generation ago, banking institutions were never open on Saturdays, nor was there any means - such as today's ATMs - to obtain cash during "off hours." The same holds true for calling to get a bank account's balance, or obtain a loan over the telephone. As banks have adapted to become more responsive to customers' needs, the term "bankers' hours" has taken on new meaning. Evening hours, 24/7 ATMs and competitive packaging on loans, interest rates and other packaging has all been part of the strategy that bankers have undertaken to attract and then retain their customer base.

Providing customers convenience and courtesy has always been key to developing and increasing a bank's customer base. In part that is accomplished through conveniences such as the aforementioned. It is also due in large part to a bank's culture; and that is a combination of both spoken and unspoken sentiments.

Efficiency counts, but appreciation counts more

Banks that provide courteous, quick, "get things done" efficiency do enjoy a competitive advantage. But another key component to customer loyalty is achieved by building a strong employee appreciation system within the banking organization.

Ask any successful CEO - bank or otherwise - what his or her company's most important asset is, and the answer will be the company's customers. Although poorer customer service has grudgingly become acceptable to the customer (due to the fact that there are no alternatives for that customer), a competitive advantage exists in the opportunity to deliver great customer service. Not only at the counter, but in any interaction the customer has with the bank.

Research shows that more people leave their job due to lack of appreciation than a lack of compensation. Acquiring and retaining great employees is "turbo-charged" when your management team acknowledges that we all carry a sign around or necks that says, "Treat me with respect. I am important."

Exceptional customer service comes from the heart

It should be pretty clear that exceptional customer service comes from the heart; and those organizations that touch the hearts and souls of their employees touch the hearts and souls of their customers. One of the most powerful ways to achieve maximum productivity from employees is to make them feel appreciated. Without it, the level and quality of customer treatment suffers. Disgruntled and unappreciated employees do not make that extra effort with customers, do not contribute to moving the company strategy forward and don't contribute powerfully.

In a recent survey of bank management by the American Banking Association managers referred to such phrases as "implementing sales culture" and "changing our culture from order takers to pro-active sales," along with "need for a strong labor market," and "attracting and retaining quality people."

A happy, satisfied employee is a passionate, productive employee. And that's good news, not only for the bank management, but also for the bank's customers.

"How can I create more happy, satisfied bank employees?"

Bank management personnel looking to create happier, more satisfied employees need to make employees an integral part of the business process. Experienced executives have said it several ways: Andy Grove, Intel Corp. says "Involve all personnel in the goings-on of the organization and communicate at every level, in every form. Create an environment where anybody can ask anyone any question". Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor has said, "Powerlessness corrupts. Absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely."

How you communicate and include your employees is as important as what you pay them. CEOs or branch managers looking to increase the power, passion and profitability of their staff - and the bottom line at the same time - should answer these questions and see how their organization stacks up.

Here's a quick test for you!

  1. How many of your staff members know the strategy of the bank for the next quarter?
  2. How many "lower level" individuals are involved in programs that determine the type of service that customers get?
    For example:
    • a. How does the bank physically 'lay out' the bank?
    • b. What does the bank do to market itself in the community? And how much time do employees get to engage in helping determine how a bank does this?
    • c. Do employees have a say in formulating a customer suggestion and reward system?
  3. How often does a branch have team meetings? Who attends them? Do you solicit advice and suggestions from all employees?
  4. How often do branch managers have a team meeting?
  5. What is the branch's retention rate for employees?
  6. What is the branch's absentee rate?
  7. What career development opportunities exist for employees? Are these opportunities presented in a passive way, if they exist, or do you openly encourage employees to further their career path?
  8. Does the employee review process include understanding and supporting personal development plans for employees (such as continuing education)?
  9. Is your suggestion program actively managed and constantly evolving?
  10. How is collaboration encouraged in your system?
  11. How much fun is incorporated in the process of delivering on your strategy?
  12. How much communication across levels occurs?
  13. How do you deal with people's fear of losing their jobs?

You want to hire people who enjoy what they are doing and for whom work is an extension of their own values. Invest in their personal and professional development and be clear that this is an integral part of the way your bank works.

Well taken care of employees provide well taken care of customers. Research shows a strong correlation between satisfied customers and satisfied employees.

Increasing employee energy

Imagine the changes in a bank's culture - or any workplace, for that matter - if employers received 60%, 70% or even 80% of every employee's energy! Industry statistics show that the average employee devotes about 50% or his or her energy to a job.

What are some ways to increase that energy?

  1. Involve employees in solving bank problems. Develop an ongoing, evolving suggestion program. Involve everyone! You'd be surprised at the useful suggestions that your everyday workers may have - they, after all, "work in the trenches" and see things differently. And, you'd be surprised at what a morale-booster this policy is!
  2. Appreciate people. Catch people "doing something right" every day and thank them. Reward success openly and publicly.
  3. Create a "fun" environment where employees enjoy themselves and their co-workers. This could be a special casual dress code, a "laugh a day" challenge, or possibly having a small party for "no reason at all." Some organizations bring Polaroid cameras and have "theme parties" for office workers.
  4. Institute a personal development program for each employee. Help out with it!
  5. Remember that managers work for the employees, not the other way around.

An interesting statistic pertaining to productivity shows that one hour of planning is worth five hours of action. How much can your banks productivity, profitability and employee satisfaction increase by involving your employees more?

Remember in general that it doesn't take too much to bring out the best in people. Ask opinions, provide timely information, and remember that everyone wants to be treated as though they are special. And, they are. How much is it worth to you to have productive, happy employees?

Paul Cooperstein is CEO of Strategic Intervention Associates, Inc., a Milton-based firm that provides business consulting and innovative solutions to clients throughout the United States. Services range from strategic planning and team learning to resolution of conflicts. Corporate headquarters are at 107 Hillside Street, Milton, MA 02186. For additional information call 617-698-0678, or visit the website at www.strategicintervention.com.

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